“Should I bring the dog?” On the effect of dogs in public places

Last night was the annual Night Market on Lancaster Avenue. From 6 to 10 p.m., a stretch of Powelton Village was transformed into a street food festival with all of Philadelphia’s best food trucks in one place. I’d been looking forward to going again ever since my first visit to the market, despite having been caught in a torrential downpour last year and a foreboding chance of rain last night. That’s because the Night Market is more than just a great place for food and entertainment. It’s a neighborhood party attended by everyone in the city and their dogs!

night market pup
“Hey, you. Yeah, you with the pulled pork. Come over here and drop it.”

I’ve always been envious of people who could bring their dogs with them to events like these. Seeing owners successfully walk their dogs amongst all the commotion of unfamiliar people, smells, and sounds still makes me incredibly jealous. Even when I had a dog prior to Dipper, he was too unruly and hyperactive to take anywhere beyond the veterinarian’s office. The possibility of bringing my dog with me and being one of “those people” was something I secretly looked forward to when I began looking to adopt a dog earlier this year.

I decided to bring Dipper with me to the market last night. As with most aspects of my dog-owning experience, it didn’t go as planned, but it was an important stepping stone along the path to better understanding both my dog and myself.

Last year at the market, I didn’t talk to a single person beyond the friend I went with and a quick “thank you” to food truck staff as they handed over my pizza. This year, that couldn’t have been any less true. In fact, I couldn’t even make it the few blocks to Lancaster Ave. before people started commenting on Dipper. Apparently, he’s really cute. Who knew?

As a quick aside about myself, it’s always been hard for me to talk to people. Shy by nature, the only thing that could ever really get me talking, as evidenced by the very existence of this blog, were dogs. As it turns out, other people like to talk about dogs, too.

In every line I stood in, people wanted to talk about my dog. “Is that a Yorkie?” “What’s his name?” “How old is he?” And the most interesting question of all, “Why is his hair black at the roots?”

I don’t know, sir, but I do know that a year ago, I would have been too shy to talk to you.

“Why don’t I have one of those?” A blurry meeting with a Dipper with a tail.

Dipper even made enjoyable conversation out of what would have otherwise been awkward encounters. I had something to talk about when I saw not one, but three former roommates.

But the comments, and the reactions, really picked up once I had to start carrying him (not pictured: tiny girl carrying even tinier dog). People didn’t have to say anything for me to know what they were thinking. Their smiles were enough.

Unfortunately, despite how much everyone loved him, he was beyond uninterested in just about everyone he met. In his defense, apathy was a much better reaction than the one I anticipated: fear. Six months after adopting him, my formerly abused rescue dog can still be a hard read; it’s difficult to know how he’s going to react to much of anything. It was disappointing to explain to people that my dog is simply standoffish outside–it’s not that he doesn’t like you, he’d just rather sniff for squirrels.

Neither of us are social butterflies, but we’re getting there.

You’ll hear more from me about the impact of having a dog on my social anxieties and other challenges later. For now, my arms are tired from carrying a 10 lb. terrier around all night.

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